Limited and Open Government

Build a Better Future of Work

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Everyone knows the Ferris Bueller quote, and it’s a quote to aspire toward. But it was a quote from the perspective of a middle-class high schooler in 1986, without a job. 

In reality, life moves much faster than it did four decades ago. And it keeps getting faster. 

The workforce, in turn, is along for the ride with little hope of slowing down. 

A recent Wall Street Journal article from Rachel Feintzeig summed up the predicament relatively well: “We eat lunch while we work, take calls at the gym, reply to messages while logged on to Zoom…. and even at home I feel guilty about folding laundry without popping in my AirPods and returning a call from my mom.” 

Workers in the United States spend about a third of their waking life, roughly 90,000 hours, at work. But there was a moment during the pandemic where this all came to a grinding halt. Workers reclaimed their personal lives — albeit a secluded one — and many of us did things like learning to make pizza instead of cramming in more emails. 

But now that we’re out of the storm, life has returned to normal. No more time for pizza making. Just one more thing. 

Of course, there are many reasons why people have returned to the steady drumbeat of nine-to-five work. Just last month, inflation leveled out around five percent, US job numbers went on the rise again after mass layoffs, and the banking sector has left many uneasy about their deposits. 

The bottom line is that you need to put food on the table and make rent. There’s no time to stop and look around.

But just because we can’t slow the pace doesn’t mean we can’t at least improve the state of work. By that, I mean we ought to be on the lookout for solutions that make work more meaningful and work-life boundaries more intentional. 

Portable Benefits for Gig Workers

I’ve told a few stories about my rides with Uber drivers in the past. One common theme among all of them is that they use their time the way they want to — and they use the app-based gig economy to make that a reality. But the other common theme is that being a rideshare driver is no substitute for a steady full-time job. 

That’s why we began working on a solution, portable benefits plans, to stabilize the part of their lives that they cannot control without impacting the part they can. 

Self-Employment Assistance

The next idea we are kicking around, more to the point of this article, is self-employment assistance. 

In the United States today, an estimated 3.5 percent of the workforce is dependent on unemployment assistance. In Utah, that percentage is 2.4 percent — representing roughly eighty thousand workers. This number is, for now, relatively low. But in times of economic downturn, when layoffs are more likely to occur, the numbers will go up. 

Self-employment assistance is similar to unemployment in that it uses unemployment assistance dollars to assist workers who are laid off. But instead of requiring people to go out and apply for jobs to maintain coverage, self-employment assistance would allow them to pursue a business venture instead. 

Especially for the tech talent that has been let go from major tech companies, this kind of a program could be the start they need to push their ideas into reality. But even beyond tech talent, this program could be a useful boon for innovation led by talented individuals who are laid off. 

What Else?

What should the future of work look like, and how can we build it? It’s a question worth answering because building a better future of work really means building a better future. 

To quote Ferris again, “The question isn’t ‘what are we going to do’, the question is ‘what aren’t we going to do?’”

Just because this is the way things have been for the past hundred years doesn’t mean we have to keep working this way for the next hundred years too.